Just before Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton face off in their first one-on-one debate in New Hampshire, Sanders's supporters are using social media to prop up another debate: moderate Clinton versus progressive Clinton.
This was, in part, prompted by Sanders's argument that Clinton isn't a true progressive like he is. He fired off a tweet earlier on Wednesday to this effect:
You can be a moderate. You can be a progressive. But you cannot be a moderate and a progressive.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
This was taken up enthusiastically by Sanders's supporters, who have taken to digging through Clinton's political past and posting her more centrist moments with the hashtag #HillarySoProgressive.
#HillarySoProgressive there's a hashtag #HillarySoProgressive to point out she's not— Jordan (@JordanChariton) February 4, 2016
When Hillary says she has 40 years of experience in being a progressive. #HillarySoProgressive pic.twitter.com/6KAoh4XcKZ— Samantha H. Wilson (@samhwils) February 3, 2016
Sanders, a self-described "democratic socialist" who only narrowly lost to Clinton in the Iowa caucuses Monday, implied this week that Clinton was only a bandwagon progressive.
A reporter in Keene, New Hampshire, asked Sanders whether he thought Clinton was a progressive, to which he replied, "Some days, yes. Except when she announces that she is a proud moderate, and then I guess she is not a progressive."
Sanders doubled down on this statement Wednesday night at the CNN-moderated town hall, citing a September speech Clinton gave in Ohio where she admitted to being a moderate.
"I do not know any progressive who has a Super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street," Sanders told CNN's moderator Anderson Cooper Wednesday. "That's just not progressive. As I mentioned earlier, the key foreign policy vote of modern American history was the war in Iraq. The progressive community was pretty united in saying, 'Don't listen to Bush. Don't go to war.' Secretary Clinton voted to go to war."
In support, Sanders followers took to Twitter to highlight the moments Clinton flipped between progressive ideals and more moderate views.
The hashtag has brought an onslaught of archived footage of Clinton speaking to hot-button progressive issues like income inequality, single-payer health care (which she used to support and now maybe still does, but says is a battle that cannot be won) and same-sex marriage (which she didn't publicly support until last year).
#tbt #HillarySoProgressive https://t.co/mWZfcw58sE— Brian Brown (@FileMenuExit) February 4, 2016
Others questioned her close ties with Wall Street, one posting a photo of Clinton alongside Michael Bloomberg and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson participating in the Goldman Sachs world headquarters ground-breaking ceremony in 2005 during her time as a New York senator.
#HillarySoProgressive #HillaryClinton pic.twitter.com/EREJmNSTZB— Armin آرمین (@ArmiinRad) February 4, 2016
And what will #HillarySoProgressive do about income inequality? https://t.co/zDpD6rpkBy— Zach Clemence (@zclemence) February 4, 2016
#HillarySoProgressive she supports marriage between commercial and investment banks— Jason Carey (@jcareybsw) February 4, 2016
Other images popped up as well, like this fake Bill Clinton and Al Gore Confederate flag 1992 campaign button, implying the Clinton name has never been progressive.
#HillarySoProgressive pic.twitter.com/WQemtyIL8P— DJ (@Dj12gauge00) February 4, 2016
What Clinton says in response to all of this
At the first Democratic primary debate in October, Clinton was asked a version of this question, wondering whether she would call herself a moderate or a progressive. At the time, she said, "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive that likes to get things done." (She repeated this line when Anderson Cooper asked her about it on Wednesday.)
Clinton has been arguing that you can be both — and in order to get anything done in Washington, you have to be. She made this clear in Iowa, talking to a crowd about the importance of keeping the Affordable Care Act.
"People who have health emergencies can't wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass," she said.
In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball Tuesday, Clinton again made an argument for political centrism:
We've got to get back to the middle. We've got to get back to the big center and solving problems. That's how we make progress in America.
I'm proud to be in a line of Democratic presidents who just got in there and fought it out … I know how hard it is, and I totally appreciate how exciting it can be to be involved in a campaign that really just puts out these great big ideas.
But I want folks to just stop and think, no matter what age you are, okay, we agree on getting the economy going. We agree on raising income. We agree on combatting climate change. We agree on universal health care. Who has the track record? Who's got things done? Who can actually produce the results you want for you and your family and for our country?
What this means for the campaign moving forward
It's important to think about this argument in context. The candidates are arguing over who is a true progressive because many people in the Democratic primary think of themselves as progressive.
Indeed, LZ Granderson, a commentator for CNN, suggested this could do "serious damage" before the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday night.
GOP focused on emails but the #HillarySoProgressive hashtag is doing some serious damage heading into debate— LZ Granderson (@Locs_n_Laughs) February 4, 2016
But while many Democrats identify themselves as liberal (which is often conflated with progressivism, even though they have distinct meanings), most Americans do not.
This means that who can be the truer progressive might be problematic when the winner of the Democratic nomination turns his or her eye to the general election.
Correction: While Photoshop did exist in the 1990s, it's unclear if this button, created by someone outside the Clinton-Gore campaign, used it to make their DIY creation.